The two magnificent animals on this painting are Karajishi, lions of foreign land. Karajishi is one of the iconographic symbols of power in Japan that is believed to drive off evil spirits and represents strong authority and ability. Even though no one ever saw the real beast before arrival of the modern age, Japanese artists had been inspired by descriptions heard by the Chinese to create the mythological figure which looked like a mix of a dragon and a dog.
The artist who painted the painting on a large folding screen (7.3 x 14.8 ft.) is Eitoku Kano (1543–1590), one of the representative painters of Japan. He was born in Kyoto among the renowned Kano School of Painters, the longest lived and most authoritative school of art in Japanese history with approximately 400 years of prominence. Eitoku was a precociously gifted painter since his younger age and his bold brushwork and dynamic expression succeeded in attracting the most powerful patrons such as shogunate Nobunaga Oda and his successor Hideyoshi Toyotomi. These warlords struggled to restore unity over Japan after decades of constant warfare. As if making a show of their newly acquired power, they cherished robust and decorative style of art with gold opulently applied to them.
Throughout the centuries people have been captivated by Eitoku’s artwork not only by their vigor but also by his meticulous attention to detail.
In Rakuchu Rakugaizu (above), Eitoku painstakingly painted 2,479 men and women in close detail on a set of two screens (5.3 x 12.0 ft. each). They are a comprehensive visual image of Kyoto and of the lives of its townspeople. They portray manners and customs, business and entertainment, fashion and transportation, and lively atmosphere of the capital. Because of the graphic depiction of people and culture, these paintings provide exceptional value as historical research material as well.
Learn about other traditional Japanese artists: Traditional Japanese Art: The Floating World of Ukiyo-e.